I love this — a laser cutter just powerful enough to cut vinyl, but that’s great for creating your own PCBs.

Are you sick and tired of using a tooth pick to apply solder paste? Are you still using through hole components because you don’t want to deal with soldering surface mount devices (SMD)? If so, this post provides you with guidelines for building your very own laser cutter for cutting PCB stencils. With a total cost of approximately $200 (it can be significantly less if you already have parts laying around), this project can pay for itself very quickly. While you can get “low cost” stencils for your PCBs, they still can be quite expensive if you are only creating one or two boards

[via Electronics Lab]

John Baichtal

John Baichtal

My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal

  • Sean

    This is a great project. I have been reluctant about moving on to smd for awhile but I think it is time to wake up and join the 21 century and this could help much. Thanks also for the mention of HackEDA on the build page. That is a pretty great service. Very cool and useful post.

  • Polytech

    It’s a great project, I’ve been watching these low-power laser diode cutter CNC projects for awhile now but this is perhaps the first one that is not a toy and produces a rather useful output.


    It would be great to replace vinyl (a.k.a. Polyvinyl *CHLORIDE*) sheet with some more benign material. This from a MSDS sheet on a generic (I don’t know which one the author used) flexible vinyl sheet:

    At high temperatures, hydrogen chloride gas is formed. May cause irritation to
    the eyes, respiratory system and skin

    To this end: does anyone know if something like PLA in thin sheets exist? That would be the best material for this type of application.

  • Evan Murphy

    Yes, cutting PVC is dangerous, and will damage both your laser optics and your lungs. Don’t do it!

    I believe one of the most common materials to make PCB solder stencils out of is Kapton (polyimide) film. Of course, McMaster sells it – with or without adhesive backing.

    You can definitely safely laser-cut Kapton, and the very thin stuff should cut as well or better than the PVC sheet. It is quite a bit more expensive, but a couple square feet will go a long ways.

  • Jonathan Bowen

    Vinyl cutting with a laser is a bad idea… Save your self some time and just buy a vinyl cutter. I’ve head great things about this one. It’s the same price and no work.

    I almost bought it for a project before we purchased our laser.

    • Polytech

      I don’t know if a traditional vinyl cutter used for signs will work here tho: for one thing, it’s dragging a knife through the material and it’s got to just drag small traces right off the sheet because of the friction of vinyl against the knife. Besides, you start off with a nice sharp knife and by the time you’re done cutting the intricate maze of traces and ground planes etc, it’ll just get dull.

      Besides, the knife on the cutter I’ve seen up close was swiveling on a point. The swivel radius was not large but it was a hell of a lot bigger than 0.1mm or less into which you can focus your laser – once the knife reaches a corner and has to change direction suddenly, it can’t – it has to have some forward movement for the knife to actually turn on the point, very much like a caster on a cart. I don’t know if they are all like that though, but what I’ve seen would not be suitable for PCB use.

  • Eleonora

    It’s not the first time that Make blog publish something about laser cutting PVC.
    PVC fumes are dangerous and carcinogen (of course they contain chloride).
    Don’t care of your health? They’re also quite dangerous for laser optics.

    Make magazine it’s like a bible for makers, it’s not good to give such bad ideas to (maybe novice) makers.


    • Polytech

      Well, that’s just the thing: had this blog post not been posted, Evan Murphy would not be able to suggest Kapton (polyimide) as an alternative, and we won’t be able to repeat 5 more times “vinyl (PVC) is dangerous”, and, lacking these two bits of data, someone would still come up with the idea and try to do just that – cut vinyl with laser! At least they’ve been warned now.

  • John Adams

    Warning noted have been told not to use PVC but never why. I just spray paing the circuit boards and use the laser to burn off the paint, then etch I get good results.

    • Polytech

      John, can you elaborate on what type and power laser (CO2, diode, something else), what type of a paint and what color of the paint? This sounds like an interesting approach I would love to try.

  • polytechnick

    Reblogged this on Polytech's WordPress Place and commented:
    Having waited for 3+ weeks for PCBs from a board house (have you tried to order PCBs from China in January?) , this sounds like an interesting approach I would like to try. Given that first version of a board is guaranteed to have issues, I would rather make something (crude as it might come out) in my lab than to waste time and money on a professionally made board.
    So, laser cutting the stencils and laser-printing the actual board for etching sounds like a nice match for a DIY lab